Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Harlequin’s Riddle, the first in the Tales of Tayra series by debut author, Rachel Nightingale, it was with much anticipation that I opened the second, Columbine’s Tale.
“For three hundred years the travelling actors of Litonya roamed the land entertaining crowds, but secretly leaving devastation in their wake. Is Mina the only person with the power to stop them?
In the ethereal otherworld of Tarya, Mina begins to master the rare, inexplicable powers attached to her gift for storytelling. She discovers she can touch dreams, influence the real world, and perhaps find out who is manipulating Tarya for dark purposes. In the waking world Mina is on the run, beset by divided loyalties between the travellers, and caught between two men she could love and a brother who desperately needs her help.”
As with all series, the reader should have read the first Harlequin’s Riddle. In Columbine’s Tale a short prologue provides a concise and engaging summary for the purposes of catch up, with many useful reminders of the story so far. Columbine’s Tale opens with Mina on the run, determined to find her brother, Paolo, and this time, she believes she knows where he is. She’s being pursued, too. Thinking she knows who by, she’s in terror for her life as she tries to escape the clutches of the Gazini players who are determined to keep her. Then Mina encounters Sofia, a master story teller, and together with their team, the two travel the countryside and, through the power of telling stories, hand back dreams stolen by the players. Mina is determined as ever to undo the wrongs of others, and her quest leads her into increasing danger. Mina’s quest is thwarted by menace and betrayals and as the story unfolds, petal by petal, old betrayals are healed and new secrets revealed.
Through Mina and Sofia’s eyes, Nightingale portrays story telling as a gift, one that gives something to the listener, which she juxtaposes with the approach of the players who steal peoples’ dreams and hand them back to audiences as entertainment. But that is only the tip of this complex, intriguing and beautifully told novel.
Columbine’s Tale is told from multiple points of view and the main plot lines are carefully interwoven. The use of jump cuts works well as does the building of suspense, culminating in a dramatic edge-of-seat flourish and a denouement that leaves the reader wanting the third and last in the series.
Nightingale’s characterisation is impeccable, and with the fewest words she conjures a convincing three-dimensional cast. Descriptions are detailed and evocative, providing the reader with a powerful sense of place. Nightingale makes not only her imaginary Italy alive in the mind of the reader, but also her etheric realm, Tarya, in all of its layers and complexity. The prose is gentle, soft and acts on the psyche like balm. Tales of Tarya is a series to sink into and savour.
Nightingale plays with the fourth wall as Mina learns to tell stories from master story teller, Sofia, and here the reader is introduced to the craft of story telling and finding the heart of a tale from a special and mythic perspective. The metafictional element works and invites the reader to consider the true value of the narrative form.
Ultimately, Columbine’s Tale is about creativity and healing, of good versus evil, of the use and misuse of magical powers – the power to create and to destroy – and the all-important moral message underpinning the series, that creativity should be life-giving, not life-taking. In all a delightful and insightful read.